Policy Brief  

Ensuring All Votes Count: Reducing Rejected Ballots

Download the PDF

This brief studies trends in mail ballot rejection rates in 2020 compared to previous years and how different factors, including sets of policies and policy changes, the political environment, and voter outreach, may have contributed to these changes in an extraordinary election year. Our main findings include:

  • Mail ballot rejection rates decreased in most states in 2020 compared to 2018, and a number of states saw a consistent drop from 2016 to 2018 to 2020.
  • Certain states that adapted their voting laws to make mail voting more accessible in 2020, particularly in the South, saw especially pronounced changes in rejection rates.
  • In North Carolina, rejection rates vary from county to county. Previous studies of other states’ rejection rates found similar trends.
  • States that implemented mail ballot policies, including ballot curing, increased ease of access when returning mail ballots at boards of elections, early voting sites, drop boxes, and ballot tracking, saw lower rejection rates than those that didn’t, though we caution against assuming a causal relationship.
  • Previous academic and advocacy research suggests that voters of color, young voters, and first-time voters are disproportionately more likely to have their mail ballots rejected.

We highlight these trends and suggest further areas of study that researchers, advocates, organizers, and policymakers can explore to better understand how voters casting their ballots by mail can ensure their votes are counted.

More from this Program

What led to the rise — and then fall — of participatory democracy in Colombia?
A ballot box reads

Feature

What led to the rise — and then fall — of participatory democracy in Colombia?

Research by Democracy Postdoctoral Fellow Jamie Shenk highlights how referendums in Colombia served as a powerful tool to block the expansion of mining and oil enterprises before the practice was curbed by the country’s Supreme Court.

Avoiding conflict over conflicts of interest
A sign reads,

Feature

Avoiding conflict over conflicts of interest

Developing and enforcing conflict of interest policies is no simple task for anti-corruption advocates and ethics officials alike. Archon Fung and Dennis Thompson help to better understand the problem and examine when risk is underestimated and when it is overestimated.

Laws That Govern Jail-Based Voting: A 50-State Legal Review

Additional Resource

Laws That Govern Jail-Based Voting: A 50-State Legal Review

As part of the Ash Center’s ongoing work examining the legal, political, and policy implications of advancing jail-based voting, Aaron Rosewood and Tova Wang examine the statutory basis for jail voting in each state.

More on this Issue

Avoiding conflict over conflicts of interest
A sign reads,

Feature

Avoiding conflict over conflicts of interest

Developing and enforcing conflict of interest policies is no simple task for anti-corruption advocates and ethics officials alike. Archon Fung and Dennis Thompson help to better understand the problem and examine when risk is underestimated and when it is overestimated.

Laws That Govern Jail-Based Voting: A 50-State Legal Review

Additional Resource

Laws That Govern Jail-Based Voting: A 50-State Legal Review

As part of the Ash Center’s ongoing work examining the legal, political, and policy implications of advancing jail-based voting, Aaron Rosewood and Tova Wang examine the statutory basis for jail voting in each state.